9. The Origins of the First World War: Part One
Feb 4, 2013
Key Words Notes
It all began with a profound mistake made by the German foreign policy
elite. In the spring to early summer of 1890. Then they embarked on New
Course in German Diplomacy.
Bismarck had resigned in 1890 because of a disagreement between with
the emperor and the rest of the ruling political elite over how best to deal
socialism. He had attempted to woe the working class with social welfare
and finally they still voted for Social democrat …?
So for reasons of domestic problems and the liberal policy of the new
emperor Bismarck resigned.
In International affairs this gave chance to Von Caprivi Holstein, now the
mover in the German foreign office. He became the state secretary.
Holstein had been unhappy with the apparent contradictions in the
Bismarck Alliance system. He thought that ultimately the dual alliance and
the Reassurance treaty were contradictory. And he was right in arguing in
saying that reassurance treaty stood in contradiction of the Austro-
German guarantee of Romania security and independence.
Holstein, impatient with the existing contradictions, also suspicious of
Russia, he was a Russophobe, Holstein argued for a dramatic change of
course in German foreign policy in the immediate aftermath of Bismarck’s
resignation of office. He suggested that the recent readiness of Britain
during the Bulgarian crisis in 1887, to sign on t the Mediterranean
agreements, both aimed at containing the Russian power, was proof that
Britain was now prepared to engage in diplomatic commitments in
The new course was founded on that premise. That Britain could replace
Russia on that tri-part bloc, which along with Italy would dominate
Europe. Russia would be isolated and Britain would join the Austro-
German partnership-Triple alliance as it were.
The only slight problem with that logic of premise was that it was a piece
of stupidity. Britain had signed the Mediterranean agreement because
Germany would formally and publicly back up Austria over the Bulgarian
crisis. Britain had to step into the breach because Bismarck had stood
aside covertly and latently but this didn’t become evident to Britain for a
while. So they stepped in to do Bismarck’s dirty work because they
thought Bismarck wasn’t prepared to do it himself.
Germany had to support Austria to the hilt that meant there was no need
of Britain to join arms in Austro-German bloc. By the very fact of
alienating Russia, Germany had to underpin Austria itself and so Britain
had no need to do that itself. So now Britain had no need to engage in a
partnership with the Austrians or Germans. This was literally a self-
defeating policy. Moreover, it also left Russia dangerously unengaged for
It was still considered unlikely in Berlin that any regimen could ever forge
an alliance with the most progressive third French republic.
In the aftermath of their rejection by the Germans, the Russians decided to make a gesture to the French.
In July 1890, the Czar sent a personal invitation to a French general
named Boisdeffre to attend the annual military dinner. The French
primer Freycient of the day and the foreign minister Alexander Ribot
were enthusiastic in Boisdeffre’s acceptance in their invitation.
When Biosdeffre got to St. Petersburg he found himself a special focus of
intention from the Czar minister and the Czarhimself. After discussing
matters with him, he came to a remarkable conclusion. He assured a
formal report to his government (the government of Third French
Republic) that if France was attacked by Germany, not having provoked
that attack, if France was the victim, Russia would attack Germany.
Not because he loved France, because he would be acting solely in his own
interest in defending the balance of power and the security of all states.
This fundamental census emerging between France and Russia about the
danger eminating from Germany and its self-confidence there was,
decided between the two powers a formal celebration of their new enmity
in July 1891, the Kronstadt Affair with Admiral (..?). When the Naval
quadroon approached in Kronstadt on July 23rh 1890 the guns boomed
out in salute. The sailors in the thousands had made the journey to the city
to line the Dutch sides at Kronstadt and they could hear from miles away
as they made their way in escorted by Russian warships, the mass cry of
‘viva la France’.
The real iconic moment when Czar Alexander III and his foreign minister
Giers attended the state banquet in the honor of the visiting French naval
officers. The Czar of all the Russians stood bareheaded for the playing of
the French national anthem for the (..?) which was the anthem for much of
Radical Europe. it was an extraordinary gesture. The very day, the French
Prime Minister sat down to draw an agreement between Republican
France and Russia. The result, approved by both sides was a political
understanding signed in late August 1891. In the Franco-Russian political
- Both side agreed to harmonize their policy in dealing with the affairs
of Europe. They would try to work out joint policies.
- If any member of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy, or Austria)
mobilized its armed forces then without need for further
concentration, the two powers would arm their forces.
This political understanding was all that the Russian foreign minster Giers
wanted. He wanted to put a shock across Europe and bring them back to
the negotiating table and value the Franco-Russian deal.
Alexander III had a different view. As he put it, “we must correct the
mistakes of the past and attack Germany at the first opportunity” what he
was saying was that Russia could not afford to see a France go on. It was
prepared to go to war to fight for the survival of another state. All because
of the balance of power. This is the role we have seen Britain play so often.
Britain was prepared to go to war because the balance of power was the
ultimate guarantee of his own security. Alexander III eventually insisted
upon the signature of the real Franco-Russian alliance.
Franco-Russia convention of January 1894. Key provisions were as follows.
- Article one:
If France is attacked by German, or by Italy supported by Germany,
Russia will employ all her available forces for an attack on
If Russia is attacked by Germany, or Austria supported by
Germany, France will employ all her available forces for an attack
- Article Two:
Repeated the pledge of mutual mobilization and that if any of the
members of the Triple alliance mobilized then Russia and France
would also mobilize.
- Article Three: (key of the Franco-Russian military convention)
Specified forces that both sides would immediately put into the
field against Germany.
Russia: 700,000-800,000. They would have to put more in for
France promised that immediate mobilization of 1,300,000 men.
The shock waves that ran across the continent were profound, because
they alliance was between two unlikely partners. Also some of observers
realized that it was a defensive agreement. It was for the maintenance of
Two things happened over the next decade or so by the time the alliance
was renewed in 1899 and refocused in 1901 was a lessening of attention
between and amongst Germany one side and Russia and France on
- The renewal of the agreement in 1899 the preamble was strengthened
to say that the primary purpose was to uphold the balance of power.
- In 1901, with recent of Britain tension on one side, and the France and
Russian tensions on the other, the Alliance was renegotiated with
France and Russia on one side and Britain on the other to specify this
position in case it could have occurred with Britain on one side and
Franco-Russian bloc on the other.
So for the first decade or so of its existence far from sowing the seed of
immediate confrontation with Germany or broiling France and Russia in a
permanent enmity with the Germans. If anything the reassurance and
security guaranteed made them less paranoid with their dealings with the